Final Fantasy 16 review: An epic adventure with flamboyance and style
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Featured Image Credit: Square Enix
Final Fantasy XVI has finally arrived, and the good news is you don’t need to be a seasoned veteran to enjoy this latest outing. From gameplay to story, Square Enix’s brand-new entry in the iconic RPG franchise has been tailored to appeal to hardcore fans and complete newcomers (like me!) alike. It’s time to channel your inner Bilbo and embark on an epic adventure.
The story of Final Fantasy XVI takes place in the mystical world of Valisthea, home of six nations divided and on the brink of war. Each nation has a guardian known as Dominants, a human host to powerful beings that can cause devastation at a moment's notice and can help turn the tide of the battlefield.
When a dark entity known as the Blight begins to consume the land, Valisthea is no longer at the brink of war as all hell breaks loose causing bloodshed and devastation, providing the perfect opportunity for would-be tyrants to rule, and exploit all those brought to their knees in desperation. In some ways, the premise of Final Fantasy XVI isn't too dissimilar to George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones.
At the forefront of the war is Clive Roshield, a family member of Roshield royalty, rulers of its kingdom. Clive is also the guardian of his younger brother Joshua. Without giving too much away, tragedy hits the Roshield family and the lives of the brotherly duo are turned upside down. Clive embarks on a quest for revenge, but the truth he discovers soon becomes too much to bear.
FFXVI does not adopt the classic turn-based formula, but instead is something more free-flowing, as it was with Final Fantasy VII Remake. While preferences will differ for each individual, I’m not that much of a turn-based fan, so the free-flowing combat is certainly my cup of tea.
The combat feels akin to the likes of Devil May Cry, with its mashing of buttons pulling off some snazzy moves. Furthermore, the game even encourages you to maintain a rhythm with a combo counter and throws in a few compliments for performing some slick moves and deadly counters. Speaking of which, you can’t block in Final Fantasy XVI, so a well-timed dodge, followed up by a high-impact stagger will soon become your best ally, especially against foes that can deal devastating damage.
What I will say is that with the mixture of magical powers and sword-based melee combat, Final Fantasy XVI is easy to pick up and play for just about everyone. Clive will acquire various powers and abilities such as The Will of Fire, and The Favour of Wind along the way, channelling his elemental powers. You the player can swap them as you please, particularly handy when changing a strategic approach. Furthermore, these abilities can be upgraded by earning XP as you grow more powerful. But be aware the enemy will also grow more powerful alongside you. So enemies will level up alongside you, keeping you constantly on your toes and always serving up a consistent challenge throughout.
Powers and abilities aside, Clive can also craft and upgrade weapons and gear, courtesy of the in-game Blacksmith to give you that added edge against the enemy. Having the option to upgrade weapons and gear, can help massively when going toe-to-toe with some of the game's epic boss battles, some of which wouldn't look out of place as Kaiju in a Godzilla movie.
Following in traditions of the series, Clive will be accompanied by his companions throughout, whether it be main story missions or side activities. At any one time, Clive can be accompanied by a total of three characters and from what I can tell, their AI is very competent, even when you’re not issuing commands. One of the most loyal companions is your pet pooch Torgal, and yes, you can pet the dog. That being said if I hear Clive say “sick’em Torgal” one more time, I’d be tempted to launch myself out of the nearest window while on fire.
One assumption that I’ve seen floating around is that Final Fantasy XVI could be open-world, but that is not the case. Instead, the world of Valisthea is kind of like a hub area with many different locations. As you visit each new area, you can pretty much fast-travel to and from as you, please. What’s more, each of these areas is quite sizable and will give you the itch to explore to find new discoveries around each corner. So while FFXVI isn't technically open-world, don’t let that put you off from exploring this gorgeous game with its stunning vistas.
Speaking of visuals, Final Fantasy XVI is quite simply one of the best-looking games on modern consoles, and certainly takes full advantage of the PlayStation 5. This game is gorgeous. I can’t say definitively if this is the best-looking game on the console, but it’s certainly up there with the best. From its character animations, its beautiful world, and its enemy design, in terms of being easy on the eye, Final Fantasy XVI is near perfection.
Additionally, you can also choose from two different preferences, Graphics or Framerate. As the name of each suggests, Framerate favours performance, while Graphics favour visual fidelity. The game appears to maintain a steady framerate on Graphics mode, and there doesn't seem to be a major visual downgrade when choosing Framerate. So choose whatever floats your boat.
As you might expect with just about every game in the series, the quality of voice acting is top-notch and its soundtrack is sublime. You can tell that every ounce of energy and passion has been put into the performances of each character, and the same can be said for the composers of the soundtrack. It doesn't matter how good a game might look or play, without the soul of its characters and music, even the biggest budget games can feel empty. Final Fantasy XVI ensures that it delivers on both those fronts, and then some.
If I was to have a criticism about this game, it would be its lack of ethnic diversity. It feels strange to have a game with such a lack of representation throughout the world of Valisthea, especially when it comes to prominent and reoccurring characters.
Producer Naoki Yoshida has attempted to address this by stating it's due to Final Fantasy XVI’s European mediaeval theme and there being no ethnic diversity during the era that inspired this game. Yet, it’s widely considered by experts that there being no people of colour from a variety of ethnicities during this time period is a myth. I know nothing can be done about it now, but hopefully the same won’t be repeated should Square Enix or any other publisher have a game inspired by mediaeval Europe in future.
To conclude, Final Fantasy XVI is truly an epic adventure. It has a fantastical story, over-the-top character performances, a sublime soundtrack, epic boss battles and it looks gorgeous to boot. Seriously, what’s there not to love about this game? It doesn't matter if you’re a veteran of the series or a newcomer like me, Final Fantasy XVI is one of 2023’s most brilliantly extravagant adventures and a sure-fire contender for Game of the Year.
Pros: Immersive world, gorgeous visuals, sublime audio design and easy to play
Cons: The lack of ethical representation
For fans of: Dragon Age, The Witcher
Final Fantasy XVI releases on 21 June 2023 for PlayStation 5. Code for review provided by Square Enix. Read a guide to our review scores here.